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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Indispensable


God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor. (1 Corinthians 12:18-23)

Sitting with my son through an entire church service is no easy task. As a matter of statistical fact, most parents of special needs children choose to not attend church (or they attend sparingly) because of the stress that accompanies potential, attention-grabbing disturbances caused by their child’s disability.

It’s easier to stay home and stay out of the congregational eye—the eye that seemingly stares and judges and blinks and winks. 

“Yet the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Indispensable: Not subject to being set aside or neglected; absolutely necessary; essential. (Merriam Webster)

My son is a 20-year-old autistic man with the cognitive mentality of a 2-year-old child, yet he is indispensable to the congregation of Redemption Church. He cannot speak (although he can make plenty of noise) yet he is indispensable to the worship service. He constantly kicks the chair of the person in front of him, he claps during the quiet times and cannot sit still for five minutes, much less the length of a sermon. Yet he is indispensable to the church—indispensable to the Body of Christ.

How can the least become essential and the weaker become indispensable in God’s seemingly backwards, upside down and inside out church body? With Jesus as the head, let me show you a picture of God’s great grace in the Body of Christ—His Church.

It’s Sunday morning and Jake is sitting in the very back row of the sanctuary. We are not placed in the back because we are unimportant; we choose the back mostly for strategic reasons. A hasty exit is sometimes required. Four seats are reserved for our family. This is just one of the ways our church ministers to us.

My wife sits on one side of Jake and I sit on the other. We take turns stroking his arms and his back to keep him calm enough to sit through an entire worship service. His mother runs her fingers through his thinning auburn hair. It has always been Jake’s sedative.

But this service is different. The pastor has just preached one of his final messages from an entire sermon series in the book of Romans and has come to a key verse that obviously catches Jake’s attention. The verse is Romans 16:16 “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

Jake perks up and listens as the pastor begins to apply the text, asking the congregation, “Why don’t we do that anymore? Why don’t we show affection in the church? Why don’t we greet each other with hugs and kisses? Why are we afraid of touch?”

Jake nods in approval of the pastor’s plea and gives an affirming grunt—his unmistakable, “Amen!”

I give my wife that silent look. She knows what it means. We have learned to speak clearly without words over the years—across rooms, through crowds, over noise, and in church. It’s a head slightly tilted forward, wide-eyed, pursed lip look.  A nervous mix of, “Isn’t that cute” and “Batten down the hatches, something is about to happen!”

The pastor continues as he concludes his sermon. “We’re going to try something new today. (Just what every good church member wants to hear) After The Lord’s Supper, turn to the person next to you and give him or her a hug. And show some affection!”

You could feel the uncomfortable anticipation creep across the room as people began to think, “Is he serious? We have to touch each other, beyond a casual handshake?” I imagined what the visitors were thinking that morning; some after sneaking quietly into the room, now were exposed to their worst fear—being ousted from their anonymity and physically embraced by complete strangers.

People were looking around the room, checking out their neighbors, their prospective huggers, and the nearest exits.

I honestly remember thinking to myself, “If some guy tries to kiss me, I’m going to put him on the ground.” My heart began to drift—like hearts do, when they are afraid.

But the man-child moved to the edge of his seat and leaned in to the pastor’s words.

As the final prayer was prayed, the “amen” was sounded and the congregation dismissed, people began to mill uncomfortably towards each other. Some even tried to head for the door and avoid the offending invasion of their personal comfort zones.

The pastor gently prodded, “Come on now, find someone to hug before you leave!”

Two or three married couples at the front of the church, closest to the pastor, did a lean in shoulder bump with a patronizing pat on the back. Then a few more followed suite, as most of the congregation simply did not know how to respond to the awkward invitation and were content to go through the motions to please the pastor.

And that’s when it happened.

That’s when the broken little toe led the foot, and the foot led the leg, and the leg led the body, and the weaker member became indispensable.

Jake sprung from his seat and bolted into the isle before we could catch him. He ran straight over to an older gentleman (who was trying to exit the building unnoticed and presumably untouched) and nearly knocked him off his feet with a bear hug. It wasn’t gentle and it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t short lived. Jake held onto the man until I could get through the crowd of people to pull him off. The stern look on the man’s face told me this was an uninvited intrusion into his wide, impermeable bubble.

But just as I began to unwrap Jake’s grip from the victim’s shoulders and apologize for the inconvenience, I noticed wetness in the older man’s eyes. Jake held tight and the man resigned his objection; his body went somewhat limp as sternness melted to a smile and unsure hands reciprocated the embrace.

My son finally released the man and I thought all was well and complete, but before I could redirect Jake back to his seat or to an exit door, he broke loose again. This time instead of restraining him, I let him go—because sometimes you have to set people free to experience the greatest freedom yourself.

He ran to hug another, and another, and yet another. He was laughing and jumping and hugging and loving. It was sloppy and loud and rough and painful. And the entire body was watching and learning and discovering what “indispensable” really meant.

Soon others joined in and the hugs spread like sparks jumping from a small, intense fire. As the wind of the Spirit blew where it pleased, the sparks turned to flames and raged through the church. But the only thing that burned up that day was the long-standing boundaries around comfort zones of personal pride and inward self-esteem.

People were laughing and talking and whooping and hugging—real hugs—feet off the ground, cheek to cheek, steal your breath hugs. And unbeknownst to most of the congregation, Jake was in the middle of it all, like an imprisoned apostle set free; like a preacher without a voice, called by God to “go and make disciples”.

That Sunday started something new for Jake, and something new for the local body of Christ at Redemption Church—a sort of mini revival set afire by the unsuspecting, silent ember of one indispensable blazing heart.

Now every Sunday he sits, waiting for the end of the service. Waiting for the Lord’s Supper, the closing benediction and the final “Amen”. Not so he can get home and watch Sunday afternoon football or fix Sunday dinner or take a Sunday nap.  Those things are the farthest from his simple mind.

He lives to apply the meaning of the message with complete lack of inhibition for his unbridled, bubble busting, in your face, knock you to the ground, God honoring, Jesus exalting, Spirit saturated —joy!

Sometimes it’s loud and painful. Sometimes he pokes an eye, or lands a knee, or leaves a slobbered wet spot on someone’s clean Sunday best. Sometimes we have to restrain his ambition just a bit for the protection of the elderly and the petite. Sometimes we wince when a visitor gets picked for the embrace. It's usually awkward and it’s almost always uncomfortable.

But every Sunday after church, the real worship begins in the heart of obscurity.  And an autistic, non-verbal, disabled, man-child shines like a white hot spotlight of God’s grace for the motley, multifaceted church body to see and understand—

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor.”

70 comments:

  1. Wow! What a wonderful reminder! Your book has ministered to me and so many here in India where I live!

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  2. Beautiful, as always! Thank you for being the sunshine in my morning! :)

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  3. My brother lives with me, and every weekend he has custody of his 24-year-old mentally challenged daughter Felicia. She has the mentality of a 5-year-old, but she is indispensable to our church. She loves church, loves the singing (she calls them 'hymn songs'), and loves the people. She is a hugger, and as soon as church lets out, she can be found going around bear hugging as many people as she can. The remarkable thing is that she remembers everyone's name. Sometimes she'll forget, and she'll ask 'what's your name?' but it's rare. The congregation is largely gracious toward her, although I did get one cranky old woman tell me I need to talk to my brother about controlling Felicia. I didn't disagree with her concerns that Felicia's bear hugs might knock over a feeble older person, but the way she presented it to me was mean-spirited. But that was the only negative comment I ever received. One time Felicia asked me if I pray to God. I told her I did, and she asked me what I say to Him. I told her I ask God to bless people I love, for people who are sick and need healing, I thank him for my blessings, etc. Then I asked her what SHE says to God, and she replied, "I just tell him I love him." Wow. I was so humbled. That wasn't on my list of things to talk to God about.

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  4. For 34 years I was blessed with a disabled son who was the joy of my life. I led him to Christ at age ten, at his request. I baptized him the next year, at his request. He was non-verbal, but he sure could make himself understood. He was rather like our church mascot; everyone knew and loved Jonathan. He loved to sing, often at the wrong times, so we had to learn to manage his enthusiasm. He went home to be with Jesus 5 years ago. I will miss him 'til I join him.

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  5. Oh the Joy!!! Thank you for sharing your story and your awesome son!

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  6. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

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  7. As someone who is blessed to work with children with disabilities, this touched me in many ways. People tend to throw out the "oh, I could never do that, you're a (fill in the blank with any smattering of 'angel, dear, saint, etc). But what those people fail to see is that I am the one who is blessed to work with them. Often I come away from my sessions challenged, encouraged, and filled with joy because of what they have taught me. My prayer is that the church would wake up to the blessing of special needs!

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  8. Thank you. . . . that really blessed me.

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  9. This body never cared for the hugs, but other members might really need it. Wonderful.

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  10. I cannot tell you how much this moved me. Beautiful. Makes me think of 1 Corinthians 27-31. We boast in nothing but Jesus Christ. What a powerful boast your son makes for Him.

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  11. Sorry, I meant 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 "27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

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  12. Oh, how much I have yet to learn ... and how much you teach me every time I read what you have to say.

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  13. Fantastic, thank you for sharing. For His kingdom!

    Paul

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    1. this is a wonderful story, and I can definitely see it happening, being the father of 2 children with Autism, this brought tears to my eyes

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  14. What a song of beauty you have sung for us! Thank you for sharing!

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  15. This is a beautiful story, and a great encouragement to my wife and I. Our 2 year old son was diagnosed with autism about two weeks ago. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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    1. Jason, as Mom to the most beautiful little boy who was diagnosed at 26 months with autism... now almost 5 years old... I pray that you will be blessed and given wisdom straight from Heaven. You are about to embark on the greatest spiritual journey you could ever have asked for. Hold on tight! 8-) MUCH blessing to you and your precious family!

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  16. Absolutely Beautiful!

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  17. For many years at our church we had a man with disabilities too. He was the best usher we ever had, and was very sincere about his job. A couple years ago, we even made him "head usher" because he took his responsibility so seriously. Just a little over a year ago he went to be with the Lord, and we sure miss him. He had downs syndrome and lived to be 55 or 56 years old. He loved to give hugs too..big ones...and we did tell him to be careful of the little older ladies. He was an amazing asset to our church!! We'll see you in Heaven, Leroy. Thanks for all you taught us.

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    1. What an awesome testimony Anonymous about your precious church usher, Leroy. How sweet of Jesus to use him in such a way to bring delight to the heart of God and your congregation.

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  18. Beautiful. It only takes a spark, doesn't it?

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  19. Incredible and beautiful. God gives good gifts! I'd love to have a hug from Jake--I'd just have to brace my feet and be ready. :)

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  20. Beautiful... thank you! My little man is now almost 5 years old and we have walked the autism road for almost 3 years now. Much love and blessing to your beautiful Jake and your family x

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  21. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story and letting us aspire toward the gifts of those who are gifted differently.

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  22. So moved, I can barely respond. Thank you

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  23. I'm reading this with tears streaming. This brings back so many raw emotions for me...like years ago when the nice lady from church told me my son "ruined her video." She was filming her daughter in the children's choir program AT CHURCH. My son, Joshua, was standing next to her. Not being disruptive, just being...different. Singing...differently. Making the motions about a beat after everyone else. I am just sure that God loved every bit of it.

    He ruined her video.

    Joshua is 27 now. He was born with Down Syndrome. He loves church and Jesus and people. He loves with his whole heart, and it's beautiful and pure. He is verbal, and he loves to sing. We get the stares because he's "different" and his singing is not as musical or controlled as most. But he's the first one to run to someone with open arms if they are sad or he thinks they need comfort. Like you, we call him our man-child. I love that you do, too. Says it perfectly.

    We have always thought of Joshua as being indispensable to our family. I don't know that I have ever thought of him as being indispensable to our CHURCH...at least not in the way that you have so eloquently described.

    Blessings to you...and thank you so much for writing this. May we all see things differently...

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  24. Tears. I have no words. Thank you.

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  25. We have more than one indispensable member of our body and they give gifts of love we all cherish. Thank you for this beautifully written tribute to you boy-man.

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  26. I am coming from a different perspective...I go to a church where we do still practice the "holy kiss". This was a good reminder that it is more than just a practice, it is a God given request that we would show affection to our christian family. Thank you for helping me to see this.

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  27. That was simply beautiful! Thank you.

    Elena

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  28. This is what I was supposed to know tonight. My youngest granddaughter is not autistic, but she just turned 6, and is either so 'energetic' that she may yet end up with a diagnosis of ADHD, or refuses to speak to anyone when they speak to her, putting her gaze straight to the ground. She has also been through some pretty serious things in her short life, and so some "odd" behavior and lack of social skills t is understandable, but I do worry about her behavior a lot, and I have to admit to myself now that I really try so hard to control her "hyper" phases, or encourage her to go ahead and respond to people, or try to help really feel a part of the congregation and/or not hurt anybody's feelings. I now realize that she already IS part of the body, and I really just need to back off and "set her free," in the sense that you spoke of here. Thank you for this insight into how the Holy Spirit works in a group of people who are His body, even the 'least' of these.

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  29. Thank you for this. My son is 5 and also non-verbal. He has an over-all delay in all areas. But, he is sunshine and smiles and loves people too. He is our joy, and I am so thankful for who he is and what he brings to our family. He is #4 out of 6 children that God has blessed us with, and he has taught my husband and I and his 5 siblings so much about love and the heart of God.

    It is a privilege to daily care for the needs of my son, and teach my other children compassion and daily lying down self for others. It's beautiful and hard, but so worth it! I am thankful for my dependency on Christ and His strength to get us through each day. I wouldn't change my son or the beauty of his "absolutely necessary and essential" part in the body of Christ!

    ~Tamara

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  30. Through Jake, God has shown us all that, Jake is the normal human being in this world, and we are the ones with the disabilities. Because of Jake, there is hope for us all. Thank you for sharing.

    Tom Gowing

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  31. WOW!!! What a blessing and how perfectly God orchestrated my reading of this today! Thank you for the gift!
    Jennifer

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  32. Thank you so much for sharing this epistle. It reminded me of a young multi handicapped young man I cared for before retirement. I went to Church with he and his family weekly. He would utter an amen occasionally, even though he does not speak. He was much a part of our fellowship, loved by all and
    our Pastor's handicapped son always sought Caleb out. It was precious to behold God working through this young man. To God be the glory, great things he has done (and does).

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  33. Thanks for posting. I have an Autistic son now twenty years old-many of your comments so sounded like our very own experiences. God's blessings to you and yours brother,:)

    Dr. Tom Miller, C.Ph.D.

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  34. Thank you. My son Peter is 25 and nonverbal. My wife and I are grateful to belong to a church that not only accepts him but welcomes his contribution to the family of God.

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  35. Thanks for this beautiful story. But I had a bit of a hard time relating since hugging is a huge thing at our church. I am so sad that things have to be so formal and standoffish, even at church. So glad Jake is changing the culture at your church!

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  36. Greg, thank you for sharing. Oh what joy, grace, and absolute abandoned disciplining by your precious son. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Give a hug to your precious wife and man-child.

    Lisa

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  37. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Our daughter works with disabled children and I am going to pass this on to her. God Bless You!

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  38. My husband's older Brother, Ryan, had cerebral palsy, the result of physician error at birth. He never walked, never talked, could not eat on his own, had to be in a special chair nearly all the time. As a result of the stress of dealing with a child whose needs were overwhelming, my mother in law started attending a church who had reached out to her. When she was 8 months pregnant with my husband and trying to carry a two year old, who was stiff as a board and unwilling to be moved, she asked my father in law, who wanted nothing to do with God at that point if he would "please just join her that ONE time, so she could at least enjoy the service". He relented and went with her. Easter Sunday, 1981, my father in law sprinted down the aisle of that prairie church to be saved during the alter call. After only a few songs of the worship time, God had worked in his heart so mightily that he tells us now he wished the preacher would stop talking and just ask him forward already!! Less than a month later, my husband was born into a Christian family, one that loved Christ passionately and serves Him faithfully to this day as pastors in their town. God used Ryan's disability to get Dad where he needed to be. Ryan had a special relationship with Christ- the only time he really tried to communicate or moved much at all, was when praise and worship music was played- not country, not pop, not oldies... Just praise and worship. He would moan and smile and wave his arms and rock back and forth- so special. He passed away at a young age, but I am forever grateful for the impact that small boy had on his family, and in turn, my family. We are in the process of completing and adoption of our second child now, a boy, whom we have named, Ryan, after his uncle. We hope and pray he also will have a connection with his saviour and be indispensable to the Body of Christ.

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  39. as the parent of a disabled "man-child" (thanks, great descriptive word), I love this and wept as I read it. If more people could see the gift of God in our children, the world would be a better place. Our church loves and accepts and celebrates who Adam is, but I know churches like ours are few and far between. May the Lord richly bless what's begun in your church, and may this spread like a wildfire in every congregation in your area.

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  40. Thank you. My man-child is still a 6-year old child, but it comforts me to hear an example of how he might be indispensable as well. I've often said that these children (and adults) whom others might consider "lesser" might be closer to "perfect" than the rest of us will ever be - unconditional love, lack of pretense, and faith like a child. What a blessing your son is to those around him!

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  41. Thank you so much for this. I am currently attending a church where there are more disabled adults and children, physically and mentally, than any other church body I have ever attended. So blessed to be in this congregation. God bless you and your family.

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  42. Many who are last shall be first... Beautiful.

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  43. thank you for your testomony of your special one! we also have a son of 24 with thinking of 2! in his way he is a blessing for us and for others. we don't take him to church, only at special times, for instance with special family times, but he is known there and loved. thank you charing. god uses all of us, no one is useless!!! He don't make mistakes!

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  44. Incredible - I have no personal experience of anything like this - but tears are streaming and I am grateful that you shared yours!

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  45. Tears of God's goodness fill me today! Thank you..

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  46. One of the most powerful, softening of the heart moments in a worship service that I have ever experienced, was when a downs syndrome man-child standing in the row behind me sang loudly and enthusiastically . The out-of-tune notes and often-jumbled words coming from the bottom of his heart in such pure worship, shattered the cold walls around my heart that morning. I sobbed through the entire song as I received God's healing touch. There I stood, tears flowing from this voice teacher who was listening to the most beautiful singing I had ever heard.

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    1. I am weeping as I read your story Cheryl. How awesome of God to bless you with the, from the heart, singing you heard and the healing you received from our Beloved Savior and Father. How sweet the sounds of worship from a heart filled with praise for Him who took the death penalty we so deserved. How awesome is our God.

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  47. Thank you for explaining to people how important it is for our special needs kids to be part of church.

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  48. Thanks, Im a teacher at a special school and Im also learning from all the replies. Sometimes i forget that children are also part of the Body! Love you all in Christ.

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  49. Thank you for sharing! Our former Pastor has an autistic son that was a huge blessing to our church. I love to sit and watch him worship and sing. Oh, how I miss that since they moved to California.

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  50. Thanks for sharing this story. What an amazing picture it paints for us. Indespensible just took on a new meaning for me today!

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  51. I only wish you would write more often!

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  52. Our pastor read this post as part of a sermon on unity in the church. There wasn't a dry eye in the place, including his. He preached from 1 Cor 12:12-27 which talks about how each of us is different and has a different function in the church, but that we are all ONE because we have been baptized by one Spirit. And that none of us should feel inferior because we are all necessary for the "body" to function. The special needs population is no exception. In fact, in John 9, Jesus explained to the disciples that the blind man was blind "so the power of God may be seen in [them]." Thank you for this beautiful testament to God's power and love.

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  53. I can't seem to find words and yet I feel like I need to say something. My indispensable son is still little yet. Only six. But I could imagine him as your Jake some day. And I needed that tonight. Thank you for reminding me that my son is valuable to the body too...that he's indispensable.

    I'm Italian-ish so the hug-kiss thing isn't too hard for me. xo

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  54. Prayed for you and your wife tonight and your kids! Had the privilege of watching the video of Eli and Mt. Everest and noted that he and his dad placed your son's picture at the base camp "summit". Made me cry. Thank you to both you and your wife for the example of Christ you have been to a watching world as you've blogged for several years now.

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  55. Thank you for sharing the experience. Our man-child also has an autism dx (with a multitude of other dx) but he is definitely verbal, excessively verbal and cannot whisper so Sunday morning worship is very interesting. He wouldn't have hugged one person but would have stood like a statue and allowed all those who love him to hug him. Our church loves and cares for us - it's so humbling. How blessed and thankful we are to be the parents of this man-child.

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